This is a story I originally wrote for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, with the Eleventh Doctor in the starring role, but it was never published. Now I’ve taken it out, polished it up and changed it to the Thirteenth Doctor. Enjoy! – Paul
Albert Penley unsealed his Tupperware container and reached in for a cheese and pickle sandwich. The heady smell of granary bread, mature cheddar and tangy sweet pickle drifted up from the container, promising a tasty treat before he’d even bitten into the snack.
Chewing carefully with his few remaining original teeth (he hated wearing that horrible palate), Albert looked up ruefully at the clean block of modern flats in front of him. Totter’s Mews, they called it; a pretentious name. Albert remembered when it was plain old Totter’s Lane.
He’d finished the first half of his sandwich and was just unscrewing the lid of his flask of tea when a young woman interposed herself between Albert and the block of flats. Silhouetted against the weak November sun, the young woman looked tall and slim, with shoulder length blonde hair.
“Excuse me, Mate,” the young woman said with the over-familiarity of youth. “Is this Totter’s Lane?”
“Used to be,” replied Albert, continuing to unscrew the cap. “Now it’s part of the B101… and this.” He indicated the modern block of flats with a dismissive wave of his liver-spotted hand. The young woman slumped deflatedly onto the bench next to Albert. For the first time, the old man could see that his companion was somewhere in her early 30s and dressed in what he took to be a slightly eccentric outfit – though he knew little about ladies’ fashion these days. Her fringe flopped over her eyes like a badly-trimmed hedge over-hanging a pavement.
“Well, what happened to the junkyard? There was a junkyard right there!” she whined, like a child whose toys had been stamped on.
Albert chuckled. “That ain’t been there for ages,” he explained. “Not since the eighties. First it was an auto yard, then it was a pizza shop and now it’s flats for yuppies.”
The young woman wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Yuppies. Can’t stand ‘em. With their paninis and their ties over their shoulders. I mean, what sort of idiot puts their tie over their shoulder?”
“Totter’s Mews, they call it,” said Albert, pouring himself a cup of hot, sweet tea.
“Mews,” repeated the young woman with disdain. “What a horrible word. Sounds like a kitten being sick – meeeeeeeews.”
Albert poured a second cup of tea into the lid of the flask and offered it to the young woman, who accepted it gratefully. She sat there in sad silence.
“I used to work round here,” said Albert.
“I used to live round here,” said the young woman. After a pause, she added; “What did you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I was a copper,” said Albert proudly. “Fifty years, man and boy. This used to be my patch; Totter’s Lane, round Coburn Street, all the way up as far as the old Coal Hill School.”
A nostalgic smile crossed the young woman’s face and she dug a bony elbow playfully in his ribs. “I bet you must’ve seen some sights?”
Albert nodded and took a sip of tea. “Definitely. This was always a spooky old place back in the day, Totter’s Lane. Fog driftin’ in off the river and cold, even in the middle of summer.”
“I always found it quite cosy,” said the young woman wistfully.
“And that there junkyard you mentioned,” Albert continued. “There was always something strange goin’ on there.”
“Really?” enquired the young woman suspiciously. “What sort of thing?”
“Well, let me tell you,” Albert turned to face the young woman, who was listening intently. “I comes down ‘ere one night, foggy as hell it was, and I was shinin’ my torch round, doin’ my usual checks.”
“Very diligent,” said the young woman.
“So I checks the gate of the yard, like always did and there’s this sound. I’d heard it a few times, but it seemed to carry more in the fog. A kind of humming sound, like you’d hear from an electricity sub-station, but it seems to be coming from inside the junkyard. I think maybe they’ve got a generator in there – those things can be ruddy dangerous if left unattended. So, I pushed open the gate of the junkyard and there inside, amongst all the old furniture and tin baths and junk, guess what I saw?”
The young woman smiled; “I couldn’t possibly guess.”
“A Police Box,” declared Albert, incredulous. “A bloomin’ great concrete Metropolitan Police Box, right there in the middle of the junkyard. Well, you’re not supposed to have those, are you? They’re the property of the Met, ain’t they?”
“Absolutely,” agreed the young woman.
“I mean, how would you even move such a thing?” Albert was getting quite animated now. “They weigh a ruddy ton! They were built to survive bombing during the war. They were solid.”
“They were made in Britain!” chipped in the young woman.
“Well, yeah,” Albert wasn’t sure if the young woman was making fun of him or not, but he continued regardless. “Anyways, I decided to report it when I got back to the station, just in case one had been reported missing. Tommy Henderson, who shared the beat with me, reckoned he’d seen the Police Box too – it’d just turned up in the junkyard a few weeks before. He reckoned he’d seen an old man going into it, but when he’d rapped on the box, he couldn’t get an answer.”
“That’s a bit of a mystery,” said the young woman.
Albert nodded. “So this story goes round the station and my gov’nor, Mr Caswell, gives Scotland Yard a ring to see if any Police Boxes are missing. They give him the short shrift and he’s not too happy. He accused Tommy and me of lying – or worse still, drinking on duty. After a lot of talkin’, we managed to persuade Mr Caswell to requisition a squad car and come down with us to Totter’s Yard.”
“Seeing is believing,” said the young woman.
“So we all gets down to Totter’s Lane,” continued Albert; “and made our way into the old junkyard. And, would you believe it, the Police Box is gone! Vanished! It was there, clear as the nose on my face, a couple of hours ago. But now – nothing! All there was to show for it was a square indentation on the ground where it’d been standing.
“Well, Mr Caswell wasn’t best pleased, I can tell you. Me and Tommy got a severe reprimand for draggin’ him out of his office on a wild goose chase. But the weirdest thing is, when they tried to get hold of the junkyard’s owner – a Mr Foreman according to the gates – they found out he’d been dead for nigh on two years. His property was in probate, see? Awaiting a court decision. That yard was a vacant lot, yet people swore blind they’d seen an old man comin’ in and out of there regular.
“Some reckoned as how it was his ghost, Mr Foreman, hangin’ around his old property. But what would a ghost want with an old Police Box? It don’t make no sense to me.”
The young woman took a long sip of tea. “Me neither. Seems a bit far-fetched, don’t you think? A ghost in a Police Box? Next thing they’ll be saying he was from Outer Space!”
Albert chuckled, which turned into a throaty cough. He took a sip of tea to ease his throat. “This cold air ain’t doin’ my chest any good. I should be gettin’ home.”
He began to pack up his sandwich box. The young woman handed him back the other cup and he packed up the flask. When he finished, he stood with painful arthritic knees and looked down at the young woman.
Suddenly, the woman didn’t look so young any more. Despite her youthful demeanour, there was something indefinably ancient about her. Something older than the stars in the sky. She could have been any age – even older than Albert.
“Well, it was nice meeting you, Miss…?” he realised that he’d never asked the young woman’s name.
“Foreman,” said the young woman. “Doctor Foreman. No relation.”
“Nice meeting you, Dr Foreman,” said Albert.
“And it was nice meeting you too, Albert.”
Albert smiled and started to make his way home. It was only when he got half way down the road that had once been Totter’s Lane that he realised he had never told the young woman his name. How did she know he was called Albert?
Pausing in the street, Albert turned to look back towards the bench.
But the young woman had gone.